Posts Tagged ‘Albert Speer’

Soviet War Memorial in Treptow Park

Monday, June 26th, 2017


The Soviet War Memorial (Ehrenmal) in Treptow Park is one of three Soviet war memorials erected in Berlin following World War II. They honor the roughly 80,000 soldiers of the Red Army who fell in the Battle of Berlin, the final major offensive in the European theatre and one of the largest battles of World War II.

In the last days of the war, between 6 April and 2 May 1945, the Red Army battled bitterly the remnants of the German Army, the old men of the Volkssturm (National Militia) and the Hitler Youth. During that battle, more than 70,000 people were killed. The dead included more than 22,000 Soviet soldiers, 20,000 German soldiers and 30,000 civilians. To commemorate their victory, the Soviets built three lavish war monuments in Berlin: One is located in the park of Berlin-Treptow, the other two are located in Berlin-Pankow and in Berlin-Tiergarten. All three serve not only as war memorials but also as war cemeteries.

The Soviet War Memorial in Treptow Park was built between 1946 and 1949 on the site of a previous sports field. Some 5,000 soldiers of the Red Army found a final resting place in this enormous park.


Soviet War Memorial in Treptow Park, Berlin. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017.

Soviet War Memorial in Treptow Park, Berlin. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017.

Experiencing the Soviet War Memorial in Treptow Park

After entering the War Memorial through a stone arch, the first monument the visitor comes upon is the statue of Mother Russia, a woman weeping for the loss of her sons. From there, a wide tree-lined path leads to two giant Soviet flags made of red granite. The granite and stones came from Hitler’s demolished New Reich Chancellery, designed by Albert Speer, and The New Reich Chancellery was badly damaged during the Battle of Berlin and completely dismantled by the Soviet occupation forces after World War II had ended. Statues of kneeling soldiers flank the granite flags.


Mother Russia statue, Soviet War Memorial in Treptow Park, Berlin. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017.

Mother Russia statue, Soviet War Memorial in Treptow Park, Berlin. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017.


Sixteen stone sarcophagi line the sides of the paths of the Soviet War Memorial. The paths lead to a giant statue in the center of a grassy rotunda. Each sarcophagus represents one of the Soviet Republics in existence at that time. The sarcophagi are decorated with military reliefs and engraved with some of Stalin’s quotes. The imposing statue in the center of the rotunda depicts a Soviet soldier holding a German child in his arm while crushing a swastika at his feet with a sword. According to Marshal Vasily Chuikov, Army Commander during the Battle of Stalingrad, the 40-foot statue commemorates the selfless act of Sergeant of Guards Nikolai Masalov.

Statue of Soviet soldier holding a German child in his arm while crushing a swastika at his feet with a sword. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017.

Statue of Soviet soldier holding a German child in his arm while crushing a swastika at his feet with a sword. Soviet War Memorial in Treptow Park, Berlin. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017.

Masalov is said to have risked his life under heavy German fire to save a three-year-old German girl whose mother was killed. Although many Berliners voice doubt regarding the truthfulness of the story, it is nice to think that some people preserve their humanity, even when at war. What is definitely true is that Svetlana Kotikova served as the model for the German child. She was the daughter of Alexander Kotikov, the commander of Berlin’s Soviet sector who served in Berlin from 1946 on. During the Berlin Airlift, Kotikov represented the Soviets on the Allied Kommandatura. Commandant Frank L. Howley represented the United States. When Howley asked to be excused shortly before midnight on 16 June 1948 because he had a heavy scheduled the following day and left his Deputy in charge, Kotikov stomped out of the meeting and refused to participate in future meetings. The quadripartite governance of Berlin, in effect, came to an end because of his actions.

 Upkeep of Soviet War Memorial in Treptow Park

Initially, the Russian government paid for the upkeep of the Soviet War Memorial. But as part of the Two Plus Four Treaty of 1990 and the German-Russian agreement on the upkeep of war graves in 1992, Germany agreed to assume the responsibility for maintenance and repair for all war memorials and military graves in the country.


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of


Schwerbelastungskoerper for Germania

Monday, June 12th, 2017


The Schwerbelastungskoerper in Berlin (heavy load-bearing body) is a colossal concrete cylinder from the Nazi era. It is the only remaining tangible relic of Adolf Hitler’s vision of transforming Berlin into Germania, the capital of the world. Since 2002, Berlin’s borough of Tempelhof owns this one-of-a-kind concrete tube. Open to the public, the Schwerbelastungskoerper is located on General-Pape-Strasse, not far from Tempelhof airport.

Two enormous structures to anchor Hitler’s Germania

In the summer of 1936, Adolf Hitler, Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, handed Albert Speer, his chief architect, two postcard-sized sketches that were about 10 years old. The rough drafts outlined two monumental buildings that were to define Germania: the Great Arch and the Great Hall. The triumphal Great Arch was to honor the soldiers killed in World War I and to be three times as large as the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. The Great Hall, a gigantic domed assembly hall, was to be Berlin’s most impressive building. It was to be so large that it would eclipse every structure in Berlin.

Why the Schwerbelastungskoeper was built

In March 1928, Albert Speer created Project no. 15: Soils tests to determine whether Berlin’s sandy and swampy soil could support such large monuments. A test cube with 33-foot sides was to be constructed. In the end, it turned out to be a cylinder, close to 100 feet high with a 33-foot diameter underground and a 69-foot diameter above the surface. Between April and November 1941, almost 14,000 U.S. tons of concrete were poured at a cost of 400,000 Reichsmark.


Schwerbelastungskoerper in Berlin-Tempelhof, relic of the Nazi era. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017.

Schwerbelastungskoerper in Berlin-Tempelhof, relic of the Nazi era. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017.

But because of the start of World War II, the Schwerbelastungskoerper remained unfinished. When the heavy load bearing capacity of the soil underneath was finally measured in 1948, the colossus had sunk 19.4 cm (7 inches) in a period of two and a half years. The maximum acceptable settling without additional stabilization of the ground prior to construction was 2 cm. In other words, without additional work, the Great Arch and the Great Hall could not have been built.

The Schwerbelastungskoerper below ground. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017.

The Schwerbelastungskoerper below ground. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017.

Fate of the Schwerbelastungskoerper

After the Second World War, plans to blow up the Schwerbelastungskoerper were discarded because of the dangers explosives might have presented to nearby train tracks and apartment buildings. For a while, the German Society for Soil Mechanics used the cylinder to perform various tests on site. But after 1983 the structure was no longer needed and the Schwerbelastungskoerper was abandoned. For a number of years, the cylinder was neglected, and the area around it became overgrown. Now it is open to visitors. From an adjacent observation platform, the visitor can even overlook the area that Hitler once envisioned as the heart of Germania.


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of

Germania – Hitler’s Utopian Quest

Monday, June 5th, 2017


In 1937, Nazi leader Adolf Hitler assigned his chief architect, Albert Speer, the task of developing a plan for transforming Berlin into the “capital of the world.” Hitler envisioned a metropolis with monumental architecture that would rival those ancient Egypt, Babylon, Rome and Athens. He named this utopian dream Germania. The plan was so impressive that even the New York Times described the project as “perhaps the most ambitious planning scheme of the modern era.”

Speer’s model of the proposed Germania

Speer went to work and within a year presented Hitler with a model of his grand design. At the core of the model were two broad boulevards, which would run through the heart of Berlin: a north-south axis and an east-west axis. He called the three-mile long north-south boulevard Prachtstrasse (Street of Magnificence). In the north, the Prachtstrasse terminated in a Volkshalle (People’s Hall); its southern end terminated in a triumphal arch. In Speer’s design, the Volkshalle rose to a height in excess of 700 feet. Its dome was to be sixteen times larger than that of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The Hall would accommodate 180,000 people.


Model of Hitler's proposed Germania. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017.

Model of Hitler’s proposed Germania. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017.

Speer’s triumphal arch was close to 400 feet high so that Paris’ Arc de Triomphe would easily fit inside its opening. Oodles of proposed new civic and commercial buildings along the north/south axis would link these two massive monuments. Roads, would to be realigned, Berlin’s parks would be revamped and two new rail stations would replace three existing timeworn termini. Speer proposed that entire suburbs would to be constructed to provide modern housing so that over 200,000 Berliners could move out of the slums and into the heart of the city. Furthermore, a plethora of new administrative buildings and commercial developments would be constructed. To see a model of Hitler’s utopian metropolis visit Mythos Germany in the Gesundbrunnen subway station. For hours and fees contact

Did Germania come to pass?

Albert Speer designed many grand structures in and outside of Berlin. In Berlin, he completed the Olympic Stadium in 1936, Hermann Goering’s Air Ministry (Reichsluftfahrtministerium) in 1936 – the largest office building in the world at the time with over 4 miles of corridors – and Hitler’s new Reich Chancellery in 1938. But only a tiny fraction of Hitler’s grandiose plans for Germania ever came to pass before the project came to a halt on account of World War II. Today, only Speer’s almost 14,000 U.S. ton Schwerbelastungskoerper (heavy load bearing body) near the Airport Tempelhof still stands. It was built to determine whether Berlin’s sandy and swampy soil could support Germania’s large monuments.


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of



Albert Speer Designed for Ruin Value

Monday, May 29th, 2017

Albert Speer (1905-1981) was Adolf Hitler’s chief architect. Speer’s career skyrocketed after joining the Nazi Party in 1931. Blessed with strong architectural and organizational skills, he became a powerful man during the Nazi era, both in government and in politics. As part of Hitler’s inner circle, Albert Speer designed many well-known projects. Always on a grand scale, his projects included the Zeppelinfeld Stadium in Nuernberg, the Reich Chancellery and above all, Germania, Hitler’s utopian notion of transforming Berlin into the capital of the world.

Albert Speer (1905-1981) Adolf Hitler's chief architect. Photo courtesy of Spartacus Educational.

Albert Speer (1905-1981) Adolf Hitler’s chief architect. Photo courtesy of Spartacus Educational.

Speer designed for “ruin value.” That meant that buildings had to be constructed in such a way that they would make aesthetically pleasing ruins. It would guarantee, his thinking was, that Nazi Germany ruins would remain symbols of greatness throughout history, akin to ancient Greek and Roman ruins.

Albert Speer’s Rise to Power

Albert Speer was a third generation architect from an upper-middle-class family. He met Hitler for the first time when the organizers of the 1933 Nuernberg Rally asked him to submit designs for the rally. Speer quickly became close to Hitler, which guaranteed him a steady stream of government commissions. Before long, he was the Party’s chief architect.

When Hitler asked Speer to build him a new Reich Chancellery in 1938, Speer’s design included a 480-foot Marble Gallery, almost twice as long as the Hall of Mirrors of Versailles. Damaged in the Battle of Berlin in 1945, the Reich Chancellery was eventually dismantled by the Soviets. They used the stone to build the Soviet War Memorial in Treptow Park. As Minister of Armaments, Albert Speer applied his organizational skills toward the end of the war to overcome serious war production losses due to Allied bombings. Under his direction, German war production continued to increase despite the bombings.

Albert Speer during the Nuernberg Trials

Following World War II, Albert Speer was tried at Nuernberg and sentenced to 20 years in prison for his war crimes and crimes against humanity. He served the full sentence, most of it in the Spandau Prison in former West Berlin. He was released in 1966. During his testimony, Speer accepted responsibility for the Nazi regime’s actions. However, he claimed to have been unaware of Nazi extermination activities. That assertion was proven to be false. He did, however, deliberately disobey Hitler’s orders when the dictator issued the Nero Decree in March of 1945. The Nero Decree demanded the destruction of infrastructure within Germany and all occupied territories to prevent their use by Allied forces.

What remained of Albert Speer’s “grand” designs

Little remains of Albert Speer’s designs, short of plans and photographs. In Berlin, only the Schwerbelastungskoerper (heavy load bearing body), not far from Tempelhof airport, still stands and is open to the public. The concrete cylinder was built in 1941/1942 to determine the feasibility of constructing giant buildings on Berlin’s sandy soil – envisioned for Germania – without additional stabilization. In Nuernberg, the partially demolished tribune of the Zeppelinfeld Stadium survived.


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of

Siegessaeule – Berlin’s heftiest Lady

Monday, May 22nd, 2017


The Siegessaeule (victory column) is a prominent monument in Berlin, Germany. Including the sculpture on top, it measures 220 feet. A 285-step spiral staircase inside the column takes visitors to a viewing platform with spectacular views of the Reichstag, the Brandenburg Gate, the Berlin Television Tower and the Soviet War Memorial. In 2008, then US presidential candidate Barack Obama spoke in front of the monument.

History of the Siegessaeule

The Siegessaeule was designed by Johann Heinrich Strack and constructed to commemorate the Prussian victory over the Danes. But by the time the column was inaugurated in 1873, Prussia had also won the so-called liberation wars with Austria and France. Therefore, the original plans for the column were revised, and the monument was elongated and crowned with a 25-foot statue of Victoria, the Goddess of Victory.

The Siegessaeule sits on a four-sided base of polished red granite, which is decorated with glass mosaics and large bronze panels depicting the Prussian victories over Denmark, Austria and France of the late 1900s. In 1945, the French removed those reliefs and took them to Paris in an effort to erase those memories. But in 1987, on the occasion of Berlin’s 750th anniversary, France returned the panels to be reinstalled. A circular portico tops the base of the monument and supports four (originally three) fluted columns.


Berlin's Siegessaeule, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017.

Berlin’s Siegessaeule, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017.

The Siegessaeule once stood in the Koenigsplatz (now Platz der Republik) in front of the Reichstag. In 1939, the Nazi government removed the monument to its current location in the Tiergarten, a large public park. Since each of the three columns already represented previous victories, Hitler had a fourth column added, anticipating his own impending victory. The relocation was part of a plan by Hitler’s architect, Albert Speer, to transform Berlin into Germania, Hitler’s vision of a Berlin that is the capital of the world. Speer’s plan was never realized, of course, but because of its relocation the Siegessaeule survived World War II with very little damage.

The statue of Victoria at the top of the monument was designed by Friedrich Drake and weighs 38 tons. Berliners affectionately call her Goldelse (Golden Lizzy) or the “heftiest lady in Berlin.” Five major roads cut through the Tiergarten and intersect at an immense roundabout that is known as Grosser Stern (Great Star). The Siegessaeule stands in the middle of this roundabout and is accessible to pedestrians through four tunnels.

The "Goldelse" on top of the Siegessaeule. Photo © J. Elke Ertle.

The “Goldelse” on top of the Siegessaeule. Photo © J. Elke Ertle.

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of





Jesse Owens and the big “snub”

Thursday, October 16th, 2014

Jesse Owens was an American track and field athlete and winner of four gold medals at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, Germany. He was the most successful athlete at the Olympic games and won the 100 meters, 200 meters, long jump and the 4×100 meter relay. Most of my life, I heard it said that Hitler refused to shake Owens’ hand. He snubbed Owens because he was Black. I recently learned that this is only a partial truth.

Did Hitler snub Jesse Owens?

I am not trying to minimize Hitler’s arrogance and mistaken belief in Aryan superiority. According to his chief architect Albert Speer, it is true that Hitler “was highly annoyed by the series of triumphs of the colored American runner, Jesse Owens. People whose ancestors came from the jungle were primitive, Hitler said with a shrug; their physiques were stronger than those of civilized whites and hence should be excluded from future games.” In other words, it is true that Hitler viewed Jesse Owens as racially inferior and, therefore, might very well have snubbed him, but reality apparently played out differently.

Jesse Owens and the 1936 Olympics

Jesse Owens was a true celebrity in Berlin, and the German public received him warmly. On the first day of the Olympics, Hitler shook hands with the German gold medal winners. Cornelius Johnson, another Black American athlete, won the first gold medal for the United States. Hitler left the stadium just before Johnson was to receive the award.There are several speculations relative to the reasons behind Hitler’s departure. In any case, Olympic committee officials prevailed upon Hitler to shake hands with all or none of the winners, and Hitler decided to skip all medal presentations from that day forward. Therefore, technically Hitler shunned Cornelius Johnson rather than Jesse Owens.

Jesse Owens and discrimination in the U.S.

Born in 1913, Jesse Owens was nine years old when his family moved from Alabama to Ohio. His given name was James Cleveland Owens, and he was called “J.C.” But because of his southern accent, J.C.’s new teacher in Ohio thought he had said his name was “Jesse.” And the name Jesse stuck for the rest of his life. Due to racial discrimination, Owens was forced to live off-campus with the other Black American athletes (he attended Ohio State University), eat in “black-only” restaurants, and stay in “black-only” hotels while traveling in the U.S. Following Jesse’s marvelous Olympic triumphs, President Franklin D. Roosevelt did not invite him to the White House. The Black athlete even had the ride the freight elevator at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York to attend his own reception. According to Jeremy Schaap, author of “Triumph: the Untold Story of Jesse Owens and Hitler’s Olympics” Owens later said, “Hitler didn’t snub me, it was FDR who snubbed me. The president didn’t even send me a telegram.”

Jesse Owens at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany (Bundesarchiv)

Jesse Owens at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany (Bundesarchiv)

Jesse Owens – finally honored

Neither President Franklin D. Roosevelt nor his successor, Harry S. Truman bestowed honors upon Jesse Owens. In 1955, President Dwight D. Eisenhower named him “Ambassador of Sports.” In 1984, the street leading to the Olympic Stadium in Berlin was renamed in his honor, and in 1990 and 1998, two U.S. postage stamps were issued to honor him.


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.